China has slammed what it calls the United States flexing its muscles in the South China Sea to try to provoke tensions and conflict among countries of the region. But the Pentagon has called the maneuvers by two supercarriers sent to the region days ago, namely the USS Ronald Reagan and USS Nimitz, an act of standing up “for the right of all nations to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows” and further as a “symbol of resolve”.
Each carrier has 90 or more aircraft and about 6,000 personnel, making it a significant display of force off China's coast. Given this, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) is said to be tracking their movements closely, with Chinese vessels said to be within eyesight of the US carriers.
The carriers have been conducting flight drills since exercises commenced on July 4. Nimitz commander Rear Admiral James Kirk told reporters in a telephone interview: “They have seen us and we have seen them” - in reference to a nearby Chinese flotilla.
Interestingly, the US Navy and Chinese state-run newspaper Global Times had an exchange this weekend after on Sunday GT issued a veiled threat hyping Beijing's advanced missile arsenal. China has a wide selection of anti-aircraft carrier weapons like DF-21D and DF-26 "aircraft carrier killer" missiles, the state-run paper said.
It then said any aircraft carrier movement in the region “is at the pleasure of PLA”.
“And yet, there they are,” the Navy Chief of Information Twitter account posted, saying the US ships “are not intimidated” because their exercises and navigation are “at our discretion”.
And yet, there they are. Two @USNavy aircraft carriers operating in the international waters of the South China Sea. #USSNimitz & #USSRonaldReagan are not intimidated #AtOurDiscretion https://t.co/QGTggRjOul— Navy Chief of Information (@chinfo) July 5, 2020
The carriers are holding some of the Navy's largest exercises in recent years in the area, which is frequently beset upon by American destroyers sailing within 12 miles of certain islands developed by China that are the subject of competing international claims.
The exercises also involve four other warships as well, along with round-the-clock fights and missions.